Old Leaves Shed Light on Future Climate

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., May 6 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say fossil plant remains from millions of years ago might shed light on future climate changes caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide.

“Carbon isotopes are really important for understanding the carbon cycle of the past, and we care about the carbon cycle of the past because it gives us clues about future climate change,” said Pennsylvania State University researcher Aaron Diefendorf.

Diefendorf and fellow graduate student Kevin Mueller said clues about how the environment responded to global warming events millions of years ago can be found in carbon isotope ratios from ancient fossil leaves, sediments and pollen. However, environmental conditions also impact leaf carbon isotope ratios, a complexity Diefendorf and Mueller resolved with their study.

The researchers suggest the environmental relationships highlighted in their study can be used to modify existing climate records to produce a more accurate, robust account of past atmospheric conditions and how it correlates with temperature change.

The study that included Scott Wing of the Smithsonian Institute department of paleobiology, University of California-Santa Cruz Professor Paul Koch and Penn State Professor Katherine Freeman appeared in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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